Sunday, January 1, 2023, The Feast of the Holy Name. Sermon preached by Rev. Carolyn H. Eklund

Year A; Christmas 1FB; Feast of the Holy Name of Jesus

January 1, 2023; Luke 2:15-21

Before the end of each year, the global color institute, Pantone, announces the name of the upcoming year’s color. Yes. They invent a new color every year! There are press releases and color swatches and distribution to paint companies and fashion shows galore all scheduled to celebrate the color of the coming year.

            So, do you want to know what the Pantone color for 2023 is? It’s called “Viva magenta!” The press release tells us that “Viva Magenta” is a shade of red that vibrates with vim and vigor…rooted in nature descending from the red family and expressive of a new signal of strength…brave and fearless…joyous, optimistic.” It’s naturally a “POWER COLOR!”

            One gets the feeling that “Viva Magenta” is desperately trying to emerge from a lengthy pandemic, kicking and screaming! I was curious about last year’s color. So I looked up the color for 2022. It was “Veri Peri,” a shade of periwinkle that, as the news release reported last year, “…embraces the uncertainty and cautious optimism of our moment.” (“Uncertainty” was the right word because, the Omicron variant hit the globe as the fashion shows began.)

            But what about the name of the color for 2021, during the height of the pandemic? That was the year Pantone needed two colors as to not be defeated by the deadly scourge. Those colors were “Pandemic Gray.” Pantone seemed to have renamed it later with the name, “Ultimate Gray.” The other color that year was yellow, called, “Yellow Illuminating.” That color had two descriptors associated with it: “cheer and happiness.”

            In a world that has fleeting catastrophes, suffering and just plain evil, I relish all these colors and the names assigned to them. The problem, though, is the uncertainty and brokenness the world brings us each day and each year. An annual new name of a color doesn’t cure the uneasiness we have in navigating our lives in this world. We long for something steady, trusted, even holy that satisfies our unease. Something beyond ourselves and beyond the wordsmiths of public relations. Something that dedicates us to a higher purpose, power, and love.

             That is what we celebrate today. The Name of Jesus that does not change. His saving power and love do not change. Jesus Christ, one who saves his people. Immanuel, God with us. Messiah, the anointed one. All are names that point us to the Divine, the trusted holy power of God.

This Feast Day, The Holy Name of Jesus is found in one verse of Luke’s gospel. The shepherds have just delivered the good news of this boy’s mission as God’s Son to “save the people from their sins.”

Eight days passed and Luke tells us, “When the eighth day came and the child was to be circumcised, they gave him the name Jesus, the name the angel had given him before his conception.”

Christians have the ritual of ancient Judaism to thank for our holy day today. It was the Levitical command that the eighth day after birth, boys were to be taken to the temple to be dedicated to God. This was symbolized by circumcision and the naming, the most important and holy acts of the boy’s life. “Family and friends came to witness and celebrate the naming of the child.” It was a big deal.

Christians also have the Franciscans of the 16th Century to thank for bringing this holy day to us as a naming and dedicating day for Jesus.

And…well…we also indirectly have the pagans to thank for this holy day of naming. In the year 567 the Roman Catholic Council of Tours “…enacted that the [Feast of the Holy Name] was to be kept as a fast day to counteract pagan festivities connected with the beginning of the new year.” (Holy Women, Holy Men: Celebrating the Saints)

That’s not so far off from what we “moderns” do today, the day of the beginning of the new year. I kind of like the “pagan festivities” we observe today: Rose parades, lots of football games and lots of feasting on favorite and probably not so healthy foods.

The Name of Jesus persists not passively, but actively in our lives and in our worship. But most of all the Name of Jesus is steadfast and fulfills “…our longing to be freed from the evils we experience in this world: political, social and spiritual evils” which are very many.

Just naming a couple of political evils, makes me weep. For example, the continued bombing of innocent Ukraine and their capital by a losing, evil Russian leader. And here in this country, we have a toleration of many corrupt, lying fraudulent elected officials who are being allowed to take a voting seat in our halls of government.

We long to be freed of the social evils of our culture. A new COVID variant is on the horizon, and COVID is still the third highest cause of mortality in this country. There has been so much unnecessary division over the simplest responses to COVID, that I wonder if we can muster an immediate response to another threat.

And the border! The tug-of-war the Court and Congress have had over the asylum seekers is deeply frustrating because there are known ways to address this. Families now are living under blankets at the border.

We long to be freed from spiritual evils. Our souls are exhausted by all the brokenness and evil we see around us. Our egos tell us that surely, we alone can overcome evil. But that is not the reality. We are left feeling depressed and hopeless. During the Newshour on Friday, Judy Woodruff interviewed Brooks and Capehart who appear weekly to sum up their opinions of the week. Woodruff asked them each to give a “hope for 2023.” One of them completely ignored the word “hope,” and gave his litany of fears and warnings for 2023. I was looking for a shred of hope. But there was none.

The Name of Jesus means everything to me. It is everything to Christians who follow, as our Presiding Bishop Michael Curry calls him, “Jesus of Nazareth.” His name is constant in loving, in saving, in forgiving, in liberating us from the evils of the world. His name gives us strength to continue the journey of faith against a capricious, uncertain and soiled world.

Now, I confess that I honestly enjoy the name of Pantone’s “Viva Magenta” this new year because it is indeed a power color. And Christians know that it’s a passion color, too. It is the color of Christ’s sacrifice for all the world, you and me, on the cross. The Name of Jesus means to us power and passion and sacrifice as we follow him to feed people who are hungry, clothe those who are naked, house those who are homeless, and nurture the beauty of this planet.

We celebrate His Name today for the very love and power and rescue it means. What if we share with others the love and power and rescue that the Name of Jesus means to us this New Year’s Day?